, October 9, 2019
Our driver is laboriously advancing on the broad avenues of Hangzhou, lined with luxury shops and decorated with red flags arranged every 10 meters to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. At crossroads, he slalms carefully with countless scooters and e-bikes. In this "small" city of 10 million people 180 kilometers from Shanghai, the widening of the metro network complicates travel by car. After crossing one of the big bridges on the Qiantang River that cuts the capital of Zhejiang in two, we arrive at our destination. The barrier of the checkpoint rises to let us enter a large rectangular courtyard surrounded by several austere buildings.
Seb subsidiary holds 23% of the market
We are at the headquarters of Supor, a Chinese company that nothing distinguishes in appearance from its neighbors. Its history is astonishing: it has been owned for fifteen years by the Lyon group Seb, one of the world leaders in household appliances, which holds 81% of its capital. The remaining 19% was introduced on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in 2005. Supor produces and sells throughout China, under its brand, a full range of items for cooking, rice cookers juicers through stoves, kettles and cooking robots. And its results are worthy of a start-up high-tech: in fifteen years, its turnover has risen from 170 million euros in 2006 to 1.7 billion euros in 2018.
The subsidiary of Seb holds 23% of the market, away from the leader Midea (33%) but far ahead of the third, Joyoung (16%). It employs more than 12,000 people at five industrial sites, including one in Vietnam. The company is very profitable, the high level of the share price attests. It has been multiplied by 7 since the introduction, to the delight of its 15,000 local shareholders. Virtually, Supor was worth more on September 30 than its parent company, also listed but in France: 7.5 billion euros instead of 7 billion.
18% growth per year for over ten years
In the lobby of the main building, a drop down screen welcomes us in a personalized way. The welcome committee is led by Raymond Su, a 51-year-old Taiwanese who has been managing director of Supor since 2017, and welcomes us with three members of his team. He has been with Procter & Gamble and Tesco and has been living in China since 2002. "Supor has been growing by 18% a year since 2007. We are, for example, leaders in the market for cooking equipment and slow cookers, number 2 on that of rice cookers and electric kettles. "
In 2018, we launched more than 1,000 new products, filed 3,188 patents including 361 inventions
On the giant screen of the meeting room, the curves follow one another with the same profile: on the rise. Supor benefits from the rise of the Chinese middle class. According to the McKinsey Strategy Council, they will represent 54% of the population in 2020, compared to 7% in 2010. All households have sufficient means to equip their kitchen. And they are customers eager for new things. This is good: innovation is one of the strengths of the Seb group. The Chinese subsidiary is no exception to the rule. "In 2018, we launched more than 1,000 new products, filed 3,188 patents including 361 inventions," says Raymond Su. Example with the launch of a rice cooker which reduces the share of carbohydrates in rice.
Six months between designing and manufacturing a new product
To take the concrete measure, we go to Shaoxing, an industrial city located 65 kilometers east of Hangzhou. This is where the largest of Supor's factories are. It was inaugurated in October 2009. On a surface of 420 square kilometers, 4,500 workers produced 36 million pieces in 2018, for example blenders at high speed and cooking robots. It is especially the largest in the world for the production of kettles.
As always in China, the site is home to housing dormitories) for young single employees. All are therefore nourished and housed. Older people who have started a family are even helped to settle out. Overcrowded offices overlook the huge workshops. They house the research and development teams of the company. The design time of a new product is ultra-short. Six months are enough on average for it to go to mass production on the chains.
Productivity increased by 60% per person per hour between 2012 and 2017
Junyou Shen, the general manager of the factory, a 55-year-old former math teacher, takes us on a tour. Emphasizing the many robotic equipment, most made in China, which improve the competitiveness of the plant. "Productivity has increased by 60% per person per hour between 2012 and 2017, Junyou Shen Point, while our cost prices have dropped by 23%."
Half of products sold on e-commerce sites
These efforts are doubly necessary. First, the company must compensate for the rise in wages that is accelerating in the country. In Shaoxing, a worker now earns an average of 4,500 yuan (573 euros) per month, including overtime. That's two and a half times more than in 2009. Then, marketing expenses go up. Objectives: to reinforce Supor's innovative image and gain market share without lowering prices.
The battle is first played online: Supor sells nearly 50% of its products on e-commerce sites such as Tmall (Alibaba); but the physical distribution still plays a very important role. The brand has also created a network of 750 stores in all major cities of the country. It opened 80 new ones in 2018. In supermarkets, more than 8,000 demonstrators extolled the merits of robots and blenders home to consumers.
"In China, we are Chinese"
For the Seb group, the scenario is virtuous at the national level: the increase in productivity makes it possible to increase wages, which in turn stimulate consumption, and therefore purchases of locally manufactured products. "In China, we are Chinese, welcomes Thierry de La Tour d'Artaise, the CEO of the French company We do not have expats on site but we bring our technology: Supor is totally Seb." Thanks to their know-how, the factories of Supor have also started to produce for the group, which already adds 700 million euros to the turnover of the subsidiary.
TTA, as it is nicknamed in the company of Ecully (Rhône), can savor. He is the one who has been carrying out this Chinese strategy since the beginning of the 2000s. He tells with passion that he himself went dozens of times in the country to complete the acquisition of Supor, a family business created in Yuhuan twenty-five years ago. In addition to L'Oréal and the luxury giants, the group is one of the rare French to succeed in the biggest market in the world. Seb, today is a catalog of 30 beautiful brands, from Tefal to Krups via Moulinex and Lagostina. But Supor is perhaps its real jewel.